Malcolm Chandler’s Vampire Brides From Planet Hell: What Makes a Pulp Story?
Extremites, today’s article is a little different. In my many adventures through the labyrinth that is the WordPress forum of writers, I arrived at the blog of Malcolm Chandler. We struck up a minor series of comments about H.P.Lovecraft.
He seems a good bloke.
Anyway, Malcolm is an accomplished author and he asked Extremis to take a look at his new short story ‘Vampire Brides From Planet Hell!’
The normal process of reviews on this site, should you my dear perspective writers want to submit your publications for our perusal, is that I take the story and pass it off to one of my contributors to get fresh perspective on the work. Sometimes my prior relationships with the writers clouds my scholastic integrity. But, possibility of bias aside, I will share my feedback on Malcolm’s work. As an added benefit, Chandler’s story gives me the chance to cover a topic I keep coming close to but never truly tackling: What makes a pulp story?
‘Pulp’ has become a buzz word of late. Ever since the jutting chin of Quentin Tarantino thrust the word into the cultural zeitgeist of the mid 90s, people have used the term ‘pulp’ to describe everything from comic books to HBO’s True Detective. Yet, many don’t use it right. Often in discussions of film or comics ‘pulp’ has been used to describe quirk for the sake of quirk. For instance, it was bandied about when Kickass was taking the racks and screens by storm. But, Kickass is not pulp.
The term pulp fiction is derived from cheap publications that would be sold on impulse beside the cash register at your local grocer starting in the late 19th century. These stories grew out of the guignolesque horror serials of drunken late 19th century writers looking to make a quick buck by describing a murder or a sensationalized retelling of the death of noted outlaws like Jesse James. Robert Ford, the murderer of James, made a career on his pulp fame. In fact, many wonder if the excepted account of James’ final moments is true because the pulp retellings have so muted the facts. Over time these stories embraced science fiction, hardboiled detectives and erotica. In the 1940s rags like DC’s Detective Comics and Action Comics were sold right beside these paperbacks making pulp fiction and comics forever entangled with each other.
‘Pulp’ stories are interchangeable. They rely on archetypes and stereotypes rather than fleshed out characters. No one quite knows when ‘pulp’ became mainstream, but I have a theory that its mainstreaming started when Bogart donned the fedora of Phillip Marlowe (the consummate hardboiled detective) in The Maltese Falcon. Since then ‘Pulp’ has been hard to separate from Hollywood exploitation and Blockbusterism.
There have been many famous writers that have embraced this simple archetypical style.
H.P. Lovecraft could be considered one of the authors who brought the style into transcendence. Ray Bradbury, Isaac Azimov, Stan Lee (when writing shorts), and Stephen King kept the style thriving from the 50s into the 80s. Authors like Cormac McCarthy and Elmore Leonard gave pulp literary significance when they blended shorn archetypical stories with mythological epics.
What’s so attractive about the style is that anything can be meshed into a pulp rag. Flowery language that you might find in high fantasy novels or philosophical essays, better at home in a story by Dostoevsky, can be married with violent imagery not even a Thomas Harris and Clive Barker nightmare could depict. Pulp is where fiction comes to be as indulgent and gritty as it wants.
Anyway, scholastic pontification aside, what’s up with Malcolm Chandler’s story?
Here at Extremis we don’t like to pass judgement on publications through the lens of good or bad. We strive to examine our subjects on their own terms. And so I look at Vampires as a good example of pulp. A story worthy of a read from anyone who likes a pulpy violent adventure for a hot afternoon in the backyard with a beer.
The story concerns a space mercenary, hired by the aristocracy of a galactic empire to save a noble damsel from a coven — can I call a group of vampires a coven? — of alien vampires.
The story feels like a mixture of the tail end of From Dusk Till Dawn, mixed with the language of a Silver Age comic, headed by a hero who is reminiscent of Han Solo.
Without giving too much away, and ruining the short 19 page tale, nothing is what it seems.
I have no qualms with calling this story pulp; pulp that isn’t half bad to read. There are rich characters and inspired sparse description. What you’d want from a short story.
If there is a failing in the story, it is not the story itself, but the narrative voice. The whole yarn is told from first person perspective.
What is tough about the narrative voice of Vampires… is that descriptions that would be common place in third person read as stilted and forced. At times Chandler’s narrative voice feels conscious of itself like he does not trust the reader to fill in the holes. This lack of clarity makes it hard to grasp the protagonist in the beginning.
The self consciousness is only present in the opening few pages of the story and when the conflict gets going the narrative finds a nice rhythm. The archetypes and quick violence of the story carry the reader away to the seedy world of Drekken IIi. By the end, I was sold.
Chandler continues the rich tradition of pulp. It makes you long for the days when you could buy this and twizzlers as you check out your groceries.
Its nineteen pages are a crash course in pulp lit.
Oh! You call a group of vampires: a nest!
Until next, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Posted on May 19, 2014, in Miscellaneous Reviews and tagged Chandler, Cormac McCarthy, Elmore Leonard, Extremis, H. P. Lovecraft, Jesse James, Maltese Falcon, Pulp magazine, Quentin Tarantino, Ray Bradbury, Stan Lee, Stephen King. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.